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Inside the Mind of an Adult Hockey Official

03/24/2016, 11:00am MDT
By USA Hockey

Q & A with Chris Marriner

Approximately 21 years ago, Chris Marriner was at the rink to play a men’s league game in Florida. He noticed a need for more officials. Not just more, but better.

“There were a couple of officials that were outstanding,” says Marriner, who grew up playing in Maine and played college club hockey at Keene State in New Hampshire. “So I struck up a conversation with them. After we got to talking, I thought I could do a good job as an official. They encouraged me to come out and take a seminar.”

Marriner plays in an over-30 league in the Sunshine State, where he alternates between defense and goalie. He is also the state supervisor of officials for USA Hockey in Florida, so he sees every game report throughout the state. He also has extensive experience working the USA Hockey Adult Rec Nationals.

USA Hockey caught up with Marriner to talk about the current culture and state of relations between players and officials in adult hockey.

USA Hockey: How do you think the relationship and culture between players and officials is today?

Chris Marriner: It’s OK, but it could be better, on both sides. There’s a lot of confusion sometimes between the USA Hockey Rulebook and whatever product players are used to watching on television. The rules are different. There are different enforcement guidelines. There are different standards of play. Sometimes it’s confusing to some of the players.

USA Hockey: So getting a handle on the USA Hockey Rulebook would help. What else could be done? Are there any other ways or initiatives to get everyone on the same page?

Marriner: One of the things that we have done locally – and I know a lot of other leagues do this as well – is we offer an official to go to captains’ meetings. Let’s have a conversation. ‘Hey, we’re seeing this … is that a penalty?’ ‘No, and here’s why …’ ‘Oh, OK.’ And hopefully the officials can talk them through it and that can be communicated to the rest of the team and those moments can be clarified when they do happen on the ice.

That’s one thing we’ve had pretty good results with. I think it helps. It’s all communication. Let’s get on the same page. Find out who’s scheduling your officials and see if you can get one of them at the meetings. That’s something I always offer to the people running adult nationals. If you want a referee to meet with your captains before things kick off, let me know.


USA Hockey: Speaking of adult nationals, you’ve officiated the 30+, 40+, 50+, 60+ and 70+ levels. What’s that experience like? Is the intensity and excitement ramped up for those tournaments?

Marriner: It definitely ramps up. There’s definitely an added intensity. For me, having to work with a lot of the local teams over the years, it’s cool to see how they stack up and how competitive they are with some of the teams throughout the country. Florida hockey is a lot better than people give it credit for.

We also brief the officials before. ‘Hey, this is adult nationals, and if you make a bad call, they’re probably going to be overly vocal about it. This is their Stanley Cup, in essence.’ We do remind the officials that these players are out there for a reason and they paid a good amount of money to come down and play in this tournament.

USA Hockey: Any advice for players or team captains to get on an official's good side?

Marriner: It’s not really getting on the “good side” of the officials. It’s just showing common courtesy and respect. If someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, what did you see there?’ I’m going to tell them what I saw, which will either support why I’m calling a penalty or why I’m not calling penalty. But if you ask the question, ‘What are you looking at?’ with a condescending tone and expletives, there’s a difference.

USA Hockey: How can those emotions be controlled?

Marriner: I think both sides, the players and the officials, have to remember the golden rule: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. That definitely applies to this relationship. We are all human. We do make mistakes – and we are amateur hockey officials. So is the likelihood of us making mistakes greater than the NHL officials? I don’t know. I’d say probably. [NHL officials] are really good at what they do.

As an official – and as a coach or captain – you have to manage a lot of personalities. If you have an official out there and he or she is being unreasonable, go talk to their partner for a minute. Look for alternatives – it’s all about communication. Nobody likes the referees, right? But we’re out there because we have a job to do. And we try to do it well. I strive to do very well when I’m out there. Some people are out there just for a paycheck. From a communication perspective, if you run across those people and they’re working in your league, talk to whoever’s scheduling your officials.

USA Hockey: Do you encourage adult players to become officials?

MarrinerAbsolutely. Go to a seminar. Twenty-one years ago I wasn’t happy with what I saw, so I went to a seminar and became an official. For me, that made me feel good about it. I took a negative and turned it into a positive.

USA Hockey: Why else do you continue to be an official and a supervisor of officials?

Marriner: It is a way to stay in the game and you get a little exercise out of it, but for me, it’s giving back to the game, which is what’s really important. That’s one of the reasons why I took on the supervisor of officials role. It’s one of the reasons why I took on being a seminar instructor, because I want to pass on my knowledge to the younger generations that are coming up. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a group of officials that have grown up with you and around you succeeding in the officiating community. 

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If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.

But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.

While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.

Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.

The beauty of hockey

A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.

“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."

That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.

“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”

Other workouts don’t measure up

Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.

“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”

Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.

“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”

Never too late to start

That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.

Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.

“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”

Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.

“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”

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